By Ruth Crilly, A model arbiter
The view from our room at Poggio Piglia is the kind of view that makes you incapable of thinking in anything other than clichés. It’s just perfect. Rolling Tuscan hills, green and lush, the scenery looking as though it hasn’t changed since the Romans trod their way across, laying roads and being annoyingly industrious in a way that will put future historical eras to shame.
‘I feel like Ridley Scott’s Gladiator,’ says Mr Smith. ‘Apart from the fact that I’m not a father to a murdered son or a husband to a murdered wife.’ Ignoring the other glaring differences, I leave Mr Smith to unpack his sandals, shield and harpoon and take a little tour around our room, poking into drawers and cantering around the gargantuan bathroom with its two-person soaking tub and what could only be described as a ‘party’ shower. Everything is impeccably styled – the old wooden beams and thick stone walls feel elegant rather than rustic; the neutral colour palette and the simple, stark lines of the furniture make it feel as though you could be in a brand new room, rather than one that has sat in the hotel’s solid, fortress-like building for hundreds of years.
A long, greenery-flanked gravel road unfurls its way up to the elegant Tuscan casale. This is a place with grown-up charm: staff are thin on the ground (pleasingly so) and effortlessly efficient; bold contemporary art decorates rooms; there’s an airy little style-conscious restaurant with Philippe Starck furniture, and green, green gardens planted with fragrant herbs and wild flowers. Our room has its own private entrance and exterior stone staircase and I find Mr Smith, aka Maximus Decimus Meridius, poised and alert at the top of the steps, scanning the landscape as though on the lookout for approaching danger. Beneath us, the acres of hotel-owned vineyards and olive trees look tempting for a leisurely amble, but in the heat of the afternoon it is the cool, mirrored surface of the infinity pool that calls to us the loudest and so we don the appropriate attire and make our way down to claim a pair of sunloungers.
Shamefully, it is here that we spend much of the following 24 hours, breaking only for a fine and jolly multi-coursed dinner in the restaurant and the kind of heavy, dreamless sleep session that can only be achieved after generous helpings of full-bodied Chianti. Finally, guilt-ridden that we are snoozing and sun-lounging away our time in Tuscany, we decide that we must move from Poggio Piglia and have some kind of adventure.
‘Where to?’ says Mr Smith.
‘Oh,’ I say from beneath the cool flannel I have placed over my face, ‘I don’t know. You decide.’
Which is how I find myself, pale and distinctly nauseous, standing beside something called a ‘Judas Cradle’ (look it up) at the Museo Delle Torture in Montepulciano – yup, you got it, the Torture Museum. The hilltop town of Montepulciano is one of those ancient, narrow-streeted places that has you taking a photograph every three seconds and saying things like ‘Cathy/Auntie Beatrice/Dave and Karen would love it here’; yet Mr Smith is happy to spend over an hour examining various spiky mediaeval poles and chained implements, pressing his face to the glass display cabinets with a kind of horrified glee.
‘I find it absolutely fascinating,’ he says, and then, seemingly unaware of my near-to-vomiting status, suggests that we go and get ourselves some dinner.
To my surprise, he has pre-Googled places to eat near Montepulciano and we head towards the restaurant that rates number one in all of the listings, an old converted stable with lots of atmosphere and good, attentive service. But would it be unkind to declare just how much better the dinner was at Poggio Piglia the previous night? Because at Poggio Piglia (one can never have Pod-jo Pea-lia roll off the tongue too many times), chef Salvatore’s food was fresh and colourful and bursting with flavour. Plates of pink meats and creamy, oozing cheeses and hearty portions of pasta with things like wild boar ragu and shavings of Parmesan and black truffle. One delightful dish after another, served with glasses of deep, coma-inducing red wine and friendly chatter.
And so as we sit in romantic Montepulciano, discussing the practicalities of death by flaying, we wish that we were back at Poggio Piglia, our imposing stone fortress of a temporary home, kicking back in the reading room with the smell of lavender drifting in through the window and the sounds of dinnertime conversation hanging in the night air. Fortunately, it’s less than a half an hour drive back to the hotel and we are home just as the last of the Poggio Piglia diners are finishing off their nightcaps. It occurs to us, as we climb our little outside staircase, that Poggio Piglia is a place that – on a short break, at least – you don’t really need to leave. It has food, it has a pool and it has that all-important place to put down your head and plummet into a deep and rejuvenating sleep. In our case, a modern four-poster bed swathed with little wisps of white curtain; neatly furnished with plump pillows and crisp, cool sheets. There’s even a sachet of lavender from the garden, just to help us on our way, though with the various culinary indulgences of the evening it’s hardly necessary. We are asleep in our chic, Tuscan residence within minutes, dreaming of chariot races and hooded executioners and Russell Crowe.